An update on the HidroAysén dams and Patagonia Sin Represas

New video from photographer Bridget Besaw and Patagonia, Inc on the anti-dams fight

Just a few months ago, the proposed damming of Patagonia’s Baker and Pascua rivers made headlines worldwide. Patagonia Sin Represas, the campaign that began in Cochrane as a small grassroots movement to oppose HidroAysén’s plan for five mega-dams, had blossomed into a series of large-scale demonstrations that swept through Chile’s major cities in May and June.

The roots of Patagonia Sin Represas: on the Baker river near Cochrane, Chile

At that time, momentum was at a fever pitch, and optimism was building as HidroAysén underwent a series of environmental impact assessments. A major victory came on June 20th when the court of appeals in Puerto Montt ordered that all permitting and initial construction be put on hold pending the outcome of their review. This unprecedented decision, though inherently temporary, will remain an important historical milestone; as NRDC’s Amanda Maxwell writes, it was “a rare victory for environmental law over big business interests.” Incidentally, one of the leaders in reaching this agreement was Macarena Soler, a lawyer with Conservación Patagonica.

Yet despite these legal advances and the outpouring of opposition to the dams, HidroAysén has managed to push its project forward through the impressive series of obstacles the opposition has thrown in its path.  And because the international media moves from one environmental hot topic to the next in a matter of months, it’s easy to have a false sense of security about what very well might happen to the endangered Baker and Pascua. The most recent development does not bode well for these beloved waterways: in October, the court of appeals overruled the injunction, thereby lifting the suspension order a lower court had imposed in June.

Map of HidroAysén's proposed mega-dams

But the battle is far from over. From here, the case will go to the Chilean Supreme Court. So it seems there is still a chance to turn this roadblock into a dead end for the dams. For those who wish to stand in solidarity with the Sin Represas movement, the best advice is simple: don’t give up. From what we’ve seen so far, public opposition from both in and outside of Chile has been the strongest force in delaying HidroAysén’s agenda. Whether taking to the streets in Santiago, raising awareness about this unfinished story, or engaging in the growing dialogue around Chile’s need for alternative energy, the message must be loud and clear: these dams will be unhealthy for Chile’s communities, its wildlife, and its future.

A brief timeline of recent events

March: Locals from the Aysén region and members of the Chacabuco Valley community gather to protest HidroAysén

May: Following the dams' approval, Sin Represas gains worldwide attention and some unexpected supporters. The band Calle 13 expressed their solidarity with the movement by displaying the slogan during a performance, and later commended Chilean students' political activism during their acceptance speech at the Latin Grammys this November.

June 16: Patagonia Sin Represas has grown into a nation-wide movement... student-led protests erupt in Santiago de Chile in front of the presidential palace. On June 20th, the Puerto Montt court of appeals orders HidroAysén to suspend its work on the dams.

October: the Puerto Montt court of appeals gives HidroAysén the go-ahead, putting this river back in danger

November: HidroAysén and Energía Austral agreed to share the same corridor for two separate sets of power lines, in the hopes of minimizing their environmental impact

4 thoughts on “An update on the HidroAysén dams and Patagonia Sin Represas

  1. Wednesday November 16th, 2011 at 12:53 PM

    Thanx for this clear update. The battle is not over. We’ll keep on fighting for this cause!

  2. Thursday November 17th, 2011 at 09:04 PM

    thanks for the update and the timeline. i look forward to being down there in just a few days to see these rivers and talk to the people who live here face to face.

  3. Tuesday November 29th, 2011 at 05:25 PM

    Keep fighting! I am in Athens, Georgia USA and fretting terribly about the build. I was in a severe auto accident in May breaking my neck that has suspended my trip to see the rivers in their pristine condition. At 24 years old my body is resilient and I am walking about nearly as normal as before just months later. After paying my medical bills, I am now saving as much as i can from each paycheck to get down there and join the fight. There must be someway I can help, even if its just one extra body at the presidents doorstep. I am with you all fighting in spirit. May God have mercy on the rivers.

    Jake Berryhill

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